Is righteous hatred a good thing?

We often feel hatred for good reasons. Hatred comes from anger coupled with powerlessness to change or avoid what makes us angry. But hatred is also a primary ingredient in so many cases of abuse and harm.

What I want to address is whether hatred from below toward oppressors above should be applauded and encouraged: is some hate more virtuous than other hate?

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How to respectfully talk about deep disagreements

The way local and world events are going at the moment, there is a growing desire to engage. To talk to one another! And this is good. In these turbulent times, we need to be talking to each other. But we won’t get far in our conversations if we lack the skills to converse well. And right now, a lot of the most visible conversations out there are pretty awful.

Leaving aside exchanges that involve threats, insults, and name-calling, do you ever overhear conversations that sound something like this?

Atheist: Religion is nonsense. It substitutes fantasy for science.

Muslim: Wait, I am religious, and I believe in science! Not all religion is equal.

Atheist: Yeah, there are different religions. But they all involve made-up stories! If you want to live in the truth, you have to get rid of religion.

Muslim: How do you know truth if you don’t know God? My religion, Islam, specifically instructs humans to use science to better understand the truth. My religion has produced some of the greatest scientists!

Atheist: Then why do Muslims and other religious people deny objective truth and believe made-up stories? And why do they do so many stupid and harmful things?

Muslim: Just because somebody calls themself a Muslim or any other label doesn’t guarantee that they are not stupid or harmful. You have to commit to seeking God if you want to know the truth more fully. Then you will live in greater peace with society and God’s laws for our existence.

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Why we must stop referring to undocumented immigrants as “illegal” — immediately

You’ve heard the argument that “no one is illegal” by now, right? Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel spoke these words after fleeing a country that outlawed certain groups of people, including him. For many, these words still ring true: no human being should ever be ‘outlawed’.

However, most of the media narratives about people without an official residency status still use such language: “illegal immigrants,” “illegal aliens,” or even just “illegals.” “Unauthorized” is occasionally used, but that isn’t really any better.

The preferred term is undocumented. And when I say preferred, I’m talking about what the people in question call themselves. Nobody without residency documents in the country they reside in voluntarily calls themself “illegal.”

“Illegal” is a slur. It is a word in the same class as all the other hateful words that are used to slander people as a group. It presupposes criminality in a person solely because of documents they don’t possess – something that is not in their power to change. The use of “illegal” to refer to people is bigotry, plain and simple.

Those who say that people without official residency status are in violation of the law and thus “illegal” act as though all laws matter equally and like they’ve never broken any laws themselves. Have you never gotten a parking ticket? Driven faster than the speed limit? Went somehwere you weren’t supposed to go? Have you always followed every ordinance to the letter? I’m pretty sure the answer is no. As of May 2017, marijuana use is still a federal crime in the United States. Is every American who uses marijuana illegal?

Let’s rethink this legal supremacy logic.

Recent human history has seen laws that automatically criminalize black bodies, Jewish bodies, Roma bodies, Japanese-Americans, LGBTQ people, indigenous languages, members of minority religions, and so much more. Laws are poor guides by themselves for doing what is just and right. They are not an excuse for bigotry.

There are many varying opinions on this issue, and people need to be free to think and say what they will. But the last thing most of us want to do is use prejudicial words that uniformly slander a whole group of people – and especially, a group of people who are vulnerable, whose life stability is constantly under possible threat. This is why we must stop casually using this “illegal” slur against undocumented immigrants – immediately – and insist on respectful language in our conversations on this issue.

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Let’s talk about how we experience challenges to our privilege. We don’t do this enough.

Have you ever been accused of being “privileged?” Of having “unearned privilege?”

Have you ever had that feeling that out of virtually nowhere, people are labeling you, boxing you into a corner, suddenly putting the screws on you to somehow repent for this “unearned privilege” that has been attributed to you?

Have you ever felt, moreover, that no matter how you respond, no matter what you say and how good your intentions are, people assume the worst? Like everything you say and do is possibly offensive?

Do you ever feel like your success in life is talked about as being due to your unearned privilege, rather than the result of your own effort and hard work?

All these things have happened to me many times. They’ve probably happened to you, too. And when you’re able to make sense of what is being said, you can listen and reach an understanding with the person saying it.

But what happens when you can’t make sense of it? What happens when people attribute privilege to you and you can’t fully get what they mean, or why they are criticizing you? When you¬† feel hurt, or guilt, or anger, or resentment? What do you do then? Sure, you can Google a bunch of things and learn about privilege and oppression, but often this doesn’t fully answer the disorientation you feel inside yourself – does it?

Sometimes, if you attempt to talk about your feelings, you may then get told that it is belittling / bigoted / oppressive to “make it all about you” when people who don’t have these privileges face much sharper problems than just “feelings.” Shifting the conversation to your hurt feelings prioritizes those feelings over the lived experiences of those who are oppressed, it is often said.

I certainly don’t ever want to erase or cover up the feelings and lived experiences of people who suffer oppressions – but as a very privileged person myself, I recognize the need for spaces for these feelings to be heard and understood. After all, it certainly doesn’t feel like a privilege to be faced with ugly truths and realities you weren’t previously aware of.

Of course feelings don’t substitute for reality. But feelings make up part of the reality – including the feelings of the privileged. And when people with unearned privileges are challenged around those privileges, they may feel disoriented and even threatened.

I feel it is up to me, as a person of many unearned privileges, who knows intimately what this disorientation feels like, to make a space to talk about it. I’ll be writing a series of posts on this blog about this subject and linking the posts together. Stay tuned and feel free to leave comments!

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Find “your people”

It’s been a year and a half since I last wrote for this blog. Why? Partially because I had other priorities, but also because, truthfully, I haven’t felt like I’ve had a lot of additional positive stuff to share.

I don’t want to give the impression that I’ve been miserable and depressed – I haven’t. I’ve just been in a different space lately … a space of opening myself up and listening to what’s around me, rather than talking and preaching to others. ūüôā

Part of what I have been doing is finding my space, my community, my home base. I’ve needed to do this before I could refocus outward. A great part of this has been finding and developing bonds with my people.

Have you found your people?

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An anonymous letter to those “nice people” that do “favors” so they can sleep with people

Dear person interested in getting into bed with me,

You have *subtlely* shown in your interactions with me that you are not paying attention to my situation beyond how it might impact your ability to get cuddles/sex. Which is a bit better than the average rapist, but certainly not good enough for a real connection. If you want to have a willing cuddle partner/sex partner/significant other, you’ve got to be willing to see and care about things from *their* perspective.

I don’t shame your interest in sex at all. It’s natural to want this. But the minute you put your own interests above those of your intimate partner, you’re being an asshole – no matter how “nicely” you’re going about it. Look out for yourself, yes – but look out for me, also. Treat us like one unit, to which an injury to one of us is an injury to the whole.

The people I feel most likely to open up and share all of myself with are those I don’t have to take lots of unnecessary time putting in their place, because they are already paying attention to my situation before they make any requests. Real partners know that it takes two for a connection – that the situation, desires and feelings of the other person are just as important and serious as your own. No, actually, *more* important, because you are in your own mind and know your own feelings but you do not know your partner’s.

I’m not asking you to read my mind. I don’t expect anybody to do that. But when I am around somebody who truly cares about me, I know it because I don’t have to spend time saying half the things and setting half the boundaries I have to fight for around someone who is just angling to get in my bed. Their attitude shows they get this – they don’t push for cuddles or sex when it’s apparent that I’m not up for it. They don’t do favors for me on the condition that it might increase their likelihood of getting in my bed.

I know, sexual shit is set up in society in a commercial, almost prostitute-like way: Traditionally, the girl is the gatekeeper to sex and the guys have to pay to play; sometimes the genders are different, but it’s all a wash of conditional strings-attached crap. I’m writing out all of this because I’m demanding better, for both myself and my partners. I don’t want to owe my partners, or for them to think they have to buy me. Those aren’t the kind of relationships I want! We all deserve better, don’t you think?

This is me doing my part. You do your part too. You’ll feel better, your partners will feel more comfortable, and you will avoid being labeled a creep. And I promise I won’t blackball you for being honest about your intentions – we all have these feelings about someone, don’t we? Besides, it’s much worse in fact to try to slyly manipulate someone into letting you touch them despite them actually wanting something different, don’t you think?

–Your love interest

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6 examples of what creepy behavior is, and how to avoid it

When a person (or group of people) makes us uncomfortable in some way that is not openly harmful or violent, they are being “creepy.” This subject is not very well fleshed out, however; lines are drawn between violence and nonviolence, between harm and non-harm, but “creepiness” and other kinds of foggier, less obvious discomforts can also ruin people’s ability to enjoy their surroundings. This word has become pretty common; a lot of people experience “creepiness” quite often. So why aren’t we talking about it more?

The fact that creepy behavior isn’t generally an open, above-board issue means that there’s comparatively little discussion about how it happens, how to put a stop to it, and – most importantly – how to address the [sometimes unaware] source of the creepy behavior and get their cooperation in resolving the issue. How are we supposed to deal with creepy behavior if we can’t¬†come up with a¬†good framework and explanation for it?

This is, by definition, a gray area – but there are some very important characteristics that often make up creepy behavior that are not unclear at all. Let’s start there:

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Why don’t people just say what they mean and mean what they say?

The short answer is because what you are saying can be very different from what your audience hears.

The longer answer is because what you say is hardly ever all that you mean – no matter how honest you think you are.

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Exploring distinct kinds of attraction

Have you ever felt attracted to someone in some ways, but not others? Sure you have. We all have. You know,

  • The person you feel¬†relaxed around, whose therapeutic¬†company you crave, which is not necessarily sexual;
  • The person that lights you up, that inspires you, that you are drawn to because they open up your soul;
  • The person whom you feel sharp sexual attraction to that¬†doesn’t necessarily move your spirit¬†the way other attractions do.

This attraction stuff isn’t set in stone, either: these attractions are fluid, and¬†one often coexists with others. Sometimes you feel one more than others, and then you feel another more, and so on.

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Sometimes, when you want to welcome the new, you have to kick out the old crying and screaming

Man, am I learning a hard lesson in my life right now.

I went on vacation for 3 months to travel around and get new perspectives and inspiration, knowing that something was missing, that I needed to find out what the next step in my life was. I was quite right. I came back home jazzed up and inspired, full of understanding about the potential out there that I could not see from where I live.

And then I confronted that process of re-integrating into the life I was living before my trip. It wasn’t too hard, because I had only been away for 3 months. In fact, it was horribly easy – easy to fall back into old patterns and habits that I used to gradually tolerate before my trip, but now can no longer think about without getting angry. These habits and comfort rituals that I engage in are holding me back, robbing me of time I need to be spending striving for the life I now want.

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What is not being said or noticed?

Sometimes it seems like it’s not enough just to be yourself – you have to make yourself seem interesting, you have to stand out, you have to give people a reason to be interested in you and to devote time to you. And that actually makes a lot of sense: time is precious, and folks would rather spend it in places and with people that give them something they didn’t have before.

One thing I think about, whether it is in a conversation or on a Facebook or other comment thread, is this: what is something the people are not thinking about, but that is relevant to what they are thinking about? It could be a different angle on the same point of view, or it could be something that leads to a complete change of subject. For example:

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Some things I’ve learned about recognizing, coping with, and fighting oppression and bigotry

It should all be so simple: don’t be a jerk! So why do oppression and bigotry still happen all the time? And why does so much of it so often fly under the radar, often with little to no challenge, even from the people that are victims of it?

And, on the other side of the question, I know many people are asking: why are perfectly decent people often made out to be bigoted jerks just because they said something that didn’t sound quite right to someone?

This discussion is, by necessity, long and not pretty. But this is the “catch” to being a positive person.¬†You must take it upon yourself to do the work necessary to understand suffering, and the ways people experience it, so that you can better understand where it comes from, what approaches to take to it, and how to be a healing, helping presence – or, as is sometimes necessary, how to simply and quietly withdraw your presence when it is not wanted.

This of course¬†includes our own suffering; it’s hard to be positive if we can’t at least begin to understand and deal with our own suffering, and the journey will get ugly sometimes. But the more you figure out, the more you can own your own experiences, and the easier it becomes to “figure out where home is” in any situation, among any group of people – and to help others find “home” also. That’s a mighty good ability to have in this life.

So let’s talk.

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The laws of benevolent (and harmful) behavior

One of the things that stops us from being ourselves is when we think that the world is out to get us. Or not even just the world. The people around us. Our coworkers. Our neighbors. Members of our family. Truly, if you live in a state of fear of those around you, it’s going to be pretty hard for you to spread your wings and be all that you need to be.

Now, I want to make a clear distinction here: it’s when we think the world/coworkers/neighbors/family/friends/etc. are out to get us. Now, if you believe this inherently, stop and think deeper for a moment … are they really out to get you?

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Intelligence and compassion are not two separate things

What is the point of intelligence if it doesn’t make somebody’s life better or more enriched?

So much of what we think of as “intelligence” is misused. Misused so that we can hurt other people. So that we can feel¬†better than other people, as we deem them less “intelligent.” So that we can manipulate things to our liking in spite of the fact that the way we think we like things may not be the best way.

Too often, “intelligence” gets a free pass to continue existing unchallenged simply because it is impressive to contemplate – despite the fact that a lot of this “intelligence” is actually very harmful and destructive, and urgently needs to be challenged.

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Is competition bad?

Competition. The art of being the best. It’s the foundation of so much of our sports and innovation culture, how could it be bad?

Well … we live in a world that completely misses the boat in terms of human and ecological need, with development, industrialization always happening at the breakneck pace of … competition! There are profits to be made and a bottom line to beef up, because the next person/company will be in greater demand than you, and you will be out of luck if you don’t keep up. Everything from people’s rights to their livelihood to their living conditions to their sanity¬†and ability to take care of themselves and their families is on the line.

Competition on a social scale teaches us that there are winners and losers, and that we must work against each other, even as we innately know how important community is. Who among us doesn’t want to make friends and feel community with those around them? Yet when you compete with someone, they become the enemy.

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What you feel is never wrong

One could say that feelings are always right, especially considering how they often just¬†“happen” despite our best efforts!

Sometimes, the context of certain feelings is messed up, yes indeed. You don’t want to burst out laughing when somebody is weeping,¬†talking about a loss they’ve suffered. And yes, feelings can be beastly, overwhelming¬†things that get in the way! They can be embarrassing, send the wrong message, give the¬†wrong impression, and so on.¬†And the¬†actions people take because of their feelings are¬†often misguided, inappropriate, or harmful.

But feelings themselves can never be wrong, anymore than the rising sun is “wrong.” Both the rising sun and our feelings simply exist.

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What your awareness says about your trustworthiness – and how “safe” a person you are

I’ve known many people, including myself, that have a lot of trouble just being themselves. You can get into a lot of unfortunate trouble if you don’t develop a fine-tuned filter. We all know there are certain things you can’t reveal or express about yourself at work, or in most social situations … even around family and loved ones!

And so I and others have asked … if you can’t let go and be yourself … how are you supposed to live, then?

The older I’ve grown, the more I can feel like I can see where the problem lies, and what the answer to this question is.

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Why you should learn how to speak nonjudgmentally

“I talked to this loser today, who has no life and seems to think no one else should either. Instead of engaging with me, he stared ahead like a sulky child and refused to fully acknowledge me. The guy’s a non-starter. He doesn’t have anything interesting to talk about.”

Compare this with

“I talked to this guy today who seemed kind of deep in his own thoughts. He was often looking away during our conversation, and I wondered what was going through his head. I couldn’t connect with the things he was talking about.”

This is an example of two different ways to react to the same interaction. In the first way, a tone of judgment and assumptions takes over. In the second way, things are stated as observations, rather than judgments.

Many books have been written about using language that declares less and observes more, and uses “I observed” or “I felt” as a starting point for talking about observations. But what I want to highlight here is the power of habit: if you are in the habit of speaking judgmentally, very often, you will say things of a negative, shaming character without even realizing it.

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Positive thinking should be valued higher than other kinds of thinking

Free speech and free thought are definitely valuable things. But some kinds of speech and thoughts are more valuable than other kinds. I refuse to take a standoffish, “unbiased” approach to these things when we have so much injustice and wrong around us today and so little understanding of how to deal with it, both around us and within ourselves.

These days, with the Internet and all … there is so much out there that we must prioritize meaningful things over the rest.

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Meet my role model for situations of high tension: the hostage negotiator

“What would Jesus do?” say some. “What would Grandma do?” say others. These figures, who often are not with us, serve as inspiration to be somebody better, to “take the high road” at challenging moments.

For me, when such moments involve tension between human beings, I have my own version of this: “what would the hostage negotiator do?”

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Privilege is a much less unpleasant topic once we let ourselves be fully aware of it

These days, privilege often gets talked about in the negative: those privileged people, who have no idea of how life is for people unlike them. A justifiable anger, for those who do not enjoy such privileges. Very often, when somebody’s privilege is pointed out, an unwanted, undeserved¬†aggressor-defensor dynamic develops. It is often an unpleasant discussion – and so the mere mention of the word “privilege”¬†is an unpleasant event.

What is often left out of this is the good that can come out of being aware of one’s privilege. When, for example, an able-bodied person gives up their seat on a crowded bus, without fanfare, so that an elderly person may sit down, this creates a positive exchange of giving and receiving. It permits both a benevolent recognition of the way things are and an affirmation of how they should be, without guilt or shame to either party.¬†Ideally, it would always be¬†like this – but even though the reality is often far from the ideal, any individual that truly wants to positively impact the reality around them can do so simply by maintaining an active consciousness around issues of privilege. This is especially true for those that find themselves in positions of privilege. Continue reading

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What will it take to stop the violence?

Why do violent acts happen?

There are a thousand answers to this question. But not all of these answers are easily known. Especially when you are talking not about one single act of violence, but rather the continued stream of violence that keeps taking place, despite vows and initiatives to take steps to end it.

If we want to know why violence happens, and how to stop it from happening as much as possible, we’ve got to remember what violence actually is. We tend to think of violence as being about physical harm and bloodshed. But this is only one facet of violence. It’s far from the only kind.

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How “leaving people a way out” calms tensions

We all get to that point with someone sometimes when there’s this big loaded question in the air – one that involves a lot of emotion, and thus potential disappointment. Think “will you marry me?” for example. Sometimes it’s not as extreme as this, but there are many times when these moments happen, especially between people that already share some kind of relationship.

Many times, the person needing to ask the question may not know how to ask it, and the person hearing the question also may not know how to respond. The inbuilt sense of expectation can be quite unpleasant, on both ends.

It helps¬†when we can¬†lower this heavy¬†sense of expectations and obligations. I often find that a good way to do this is to “leave a way out” for the other person.

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Compersion: a word we should all become familiar with

We have words in English for when we become upset at someone else’s enjoyment (jealousy) and for when we delight in being better off than someone else (gloating) and even delighting in another’s misery (schadenfreude) … but what do we call it when somebody enjoys themself without you, AND you feel pleasure right along with them, even as the pleasurable experience does not include you? “Vicarious pleasure” doesn’t always cut it, does it?

Enter “compersion.”

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“Today you … tomorrow me” (or, “why I often pick up hitchhikers”)

The following is a verbatim republication of something written by a member of Reddit in response to the question “Have you ever picked up a hitch-hiker?” It won Reddit’s “Comment of the Year” award in 2010 – it’s a beautiful story! For context, this was written by somebody from the United States, about an experience that took place in the United States.


Just about every time I see someone I stop. I kind of got out of the habit in the last couple of years, moved to a big city and all that, my girlfriend wasn’t too stoked on the practice. Then some shit happened to me that changed me and I am back to offering rides habitually. If you would indulge me, it is long story and has almost nothing to do with hitch hiking other than happening on a road.

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What is “listening?”

This is so damn important!

If I ruled the world, “listening” would be as much a part of the school curriculum as mathematics or language or history. It would continue to be a required course in higher education also! It’s the bottomless skill, the one you can use everywhere, all the time – the one you can never, ever become “too good at” (no more than a week and a half ago, I badly disregarded¬†a friend; I¬†am still¬†shaken up about it – and reminded of the ways I must continue to work on myself).

Listening is not just “hearing” something. You can hear things all the time without listening. Listening is about learning and understanding meaning. If you are good at listening, you are constantly learning.

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Pay as much attention to why things are right as you do to why they are wrong

Many people only turn on their brain when something is wrong. But when things are right, it’s good to reflect on how to keep them that way –¬†especially in case they start to go wrong. If you know more about why things feel right when they do, it will be easier to get back to a “right” state of mind.

Folks who only make an effort when stuff is bad often find it hard to derive any good out of things that ask them to concentrate and make an effort. Then can only enjoy themselves when being passively stimulated, and are unable to actively engage with their good feelings – because their habits dictate that they only truly engage their minds¬†when something needs fixing, instead of when something needs enjoying. ūüôā

And another thing: there will be many times in life when things feel, well, good enough. Level. Settled and stable. And that’s fine – sometimes. But sometimes, we need more than that. Sometimes, “good enough” doesn’t cut it, because we know we are passively cheating ourselves out of “better.” Those are the times that we look around and say, “I have everything I could ask for. I’m safe, I’m content, I’m in a stable place. So why do I feel like shit right now?

It’s important to encourage active, conscious appreciation of what is good in one’s life – heck, we ideally¬†would even appreciate¬†“what is,” point blank. That’s what many of the great thinkers say. But a great part of this involves engaging more deeply with those good things we enjoy.

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When “attention” is a disease you don’t want to catch

The people and things that get the most attention are rarely the people and things most deserving of attention. Why are some people’s voices heard more than others? Why is some news heard more¬†than other news that is equally or more important? And what makes one hero more deserving of attention than another?

When we think about calling attention to something, especially in societies with strong freedom-of-speech cultures, we think in the positive: this is something that needs attention; it will help improve something, solve some problem, clarify something. But attention is also very often associated with negative things – we just don’t often “pay attention” to that side of the deal.

On the¬†dark side of things,¬†attention is often involuntary and uncontrollable. This is a big deal – most people don’t like to lose control of their identities or their lives.¬†Out-of-control attention can cause stuff like that to happen!

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When overall reality trumps ‘facts’ and ‘logic’

There are times, when I am discussing a topic with someone, that I run into an interesting paradox; the other person tries to use facts and postulates about what something “officially” is or has been “defined” to make their point. And very often even when I agree with all the statements they make, something is missing.

For example, recently I spoke with someone about my interpretation of what Jesus’ message was originally supposed to be – or at least the part of it that I think makes many schools of Christian thought very attractive and enlightening (I wrote about that here, if’you’d like to check it out). The person I was talking to was saying that the Bible has a lot of weird laws that Christians have to accept by definition if the Bible is the Word of God, and that Jesus in fact was not always so progressive if you look at everything he is chronicled to have said, and so on – so my interpretation of Jesus’ message simply could not be the case.

I agreed with pretty much everything he was saying on a purely factual level. But “facts” weren’t the whole story. My friend was speaking as if Christianity and Christians (and even Jesus Christ) were finite definable entities, and in that conversation, I was not seeing things this way. Reality is often much more complicated than a logical series of if-then postulates.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with having access to logical reasoning and using it. Logic and definition are essential tools for learning and understanding. But we should not make the mistake, either, of thinking that they are the only tools.

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Get off the script!

“Hi, how are you?”

“Fine, thank you.”

“Good! How’s work?”

“It’s good, it’s good.”

This gets boring and meaningless after a while, doesn’t it?¬†It’s the dreaded script! AAAAAHHH!!! You know, those times when¬†the conversation becomes so deafeningly predictable, when people might be saying a lot, but they’re really not saying anything at all?

The worst part is that sometimes you feel like an imbecile for wanting to say something more meaningful, like “work is a bit stressful. I sacrifice my lunch break to help complete projects on time, but nobody notices; I think¬†one of my coworkers might be stalking me, and my boss has these horrible¬†fights with their significant other on the phone during work, so¬†things are¬†kind of weird. But the avocado / orange /¬†mayo sandwich at the cafe next door is awesome! I order there every day for lunch.” And you look at the person you’re talking to, and they’re like “oh, ok” as they wear that expression that says “damn, you’re a heavy one” on their face and look for a way to discreetly slip out of spending any more time interacting with you.

Kind of depressing to think about, perhaps? Maybe … but I have a more optimistic view of these things.

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On not labeling your relationships

A friend of mine recently told me, “I’m seeing two people. But I never refer to either of them as ‘boyfriend’ … they are always just ‘friend’,¬†both between us and with other people.¬†The minute you give the relationship a label – boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, whatever – you’re screwed.” I had never thought of this, but you know what? It made a whole lot of sense to me.

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I’ll have more respect for your point of view if you demonstrate respect for points of view you don’t agree with

I trust some salespeople more than others – and I’m more likely to buy from folks I trust, of course. What inspires my trust in a salesperson? Things like knowing what you’re talking about and being able to address my questions completely and concisely helps, of course. But I’ve found that the number one factor for me to trust somebody I’m meeting for the first time is this: do they demonstrate respect for where I’m coming from, no matter what?

This is applicable to many situations outside of sales, of course. When discussing a disagreement with somebody, I find the same pattern: the more the other person demonstrates respect for me and my point of view – even if they strongly disagree with it – the more likely I am to listen to them and try to find common ground with them.

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What do I want for the holidays? Nothing, actually.

A member of my family recently asked me what I wanted for Christmas. It was a beautiful gesture by somebody dear to me who knows me well and knows that I generally appreciate gifts I know about more than surprise gifts. But the question still kind of caught me off guard.

As I thought about how to respond and the words came to mind, I realized a few things:

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Some thoughts about individuals who go on deadly shooting sprees

After getting over the fact that the most innocent of lives were lost yesterday in Connecticut just because somebody was angry or wanted revenge on someone else, we’re going to start asking why once again.

There is no one answer. There are multiple answers. Obviously, availability of guns is one of them. Without the guns, certainly fewer people die. But guns are not the only issue here – and focusing just on the issue of guns ignores a lot of other very important things. Gun ownership is similar in Canada to the United States, but Canada’s homicide rates are significantly lower.¬† The state of Connecticut, where the shooting took place, is actually at the low end of the U.S. average.

More concerning to me is the cultural values and norms we grow up with. This is a central factor in why these things happen, and holds the key to solving the problem.

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The insidiousness of dogma – and how it affects our ability to be happy

Anything, even the greatest, most wonderful of things, can be ruined for somebody if they have bad experiences with it. Nothing has an absolute quality of greatness or awfulness. Each individual feels things relative to their own experience.

The best things in the world – the best ideas, the best movements, the best innovations – often become corrupted with dogma and lose their appeal to people.

Dogma shuts off listening. And listening is a¬†uniquely important skill. What is the point of interacting with another human being if you are not going to listen? Listening is in some ways even more important than expression. It’s the cornerstone of all meaningful human interaction.

Certainly, there are other ways to¬†get people to stop listening; using fear, shame, guilt tripping, and other negative emotions are often part of this process, especially in a more immediate context. Dogma, however,¬†is often more subtle, less easy to notice, longer-lasting, more insidious, and so on. When people hold dogmatic attitudes, the conversation doesn’t necessarily stop – often it can keep going on forever, in fact. But in a sense, it’s all in vain; listening is not occurring, and thus the conversation might as well be an exercise in theater.

When somebody takes a dogmatic attitude toward you, you can feel how it doesn’t matter to them what you think or know, or even who you really¬†are. They’re gonna have it their way no matter what. This happens quite often, of course.¬†On an everyday basis, really. That’s why I think it is so important to talk about.

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Soundbites don’t make a discussion

The further along we get in media and Tweeting and texting, the more it seems people want to pack as much information into as little time as possible.

This is often an admirable goal; when you can state a point concisely, it often comes across more clearly.

But when we want to talk about deeper issues – things that cannot be explained in five seconds, five minutes, or even five hours – short back-and-forth exchanges are completely inadequate. There’s no substitute for the in-depth process of explaining and learning about the context of those things that can’t be figured out right away.

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Why greater investment in finding a romantic match often leads to lesser returns; some thoughts

The world of sex and romance can get really noisy sometimes with all the drama, intended or not, that it often brings. Yes – even with low-drama people. At such times, it can become hard to think.

People who know me know that I can be quite the romance junkie. But I bet those of you who read this blog from time to time could totally tell, right? I mean, look at how I’m always writing about something deep, or about sex, or intimacy, etc.

So I’ve taken some time off from that mode of being. And it’s so much quieter inside my head … now that I’m not devoting so much time and energy to how I feel about her, how she feels about me, what do we want out of this, how much time do/should we devote to developing our connection, where is this going, what needs aren’t getting addressed, how compatible are we, etc….

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What the heck does “positive” mean, anyway? Here are 22 ways I’ve come to understand “positivity”

I picked the word “positive” for this blog because I think that, if I am limited to one word, “positive” best represents the message I am trying to convey, and the way I want to live my life.

No one word can be a catch-all for everything meaningful. Far from it. But I like the word “positive” because I find that it covers so many different situations and approaches. Here are my ideas of the many meanings of the word “positive,” as well as a link to an article from this blog for each particular meaning:

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Why do people believe anecdotes and stories more than real statistics?

The obvious answer is that anecdotes often touch us more deeply. However, when a statistic touches us deeply, we also tend to identify very much with it. Those statistics that seem far away to us, however, are easily ignorable. And though a statistically-proven fact should have more weight than a well-put-together story, the story usually comes out in front. Why is that?

Another simple answer is that a story is a story, which means that it is meant to get you to listen and become and enthralled by what it has to say, where is a statistic does not do this by itself (unless you are into the statistic from the get-go). But there is more to this: statistics, because of their fixed, factual, conditional nature, can never capture the whole truth.

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There is no talking to someone who won’t listen. Talk to those that will listen instead

I am often witness to situations in which a conversation is going on between two people. Or, at least, that is what supposed to be happening. In reality, somebody is not listening. But often, even though somebody is not listening, the conversation continues anyway.

What’s the point, I ask, of continuing a conversation in which the communication is unsuccessful?

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What does it mean when you want someone to be jealous of you?

As I write this post, the most popular post on my blog these days, by far, is the one about why human beings get jealous. I noticed that a good number of the search terms hitting that post say things like “how to make someone jealous,” which is interesting, because that post is all about how to reduce jealous feelings. So I figured I’d also¬†address why people often wish to inspire jealousy in others.

Jealousy is about control – or¬†wanting control when you aren’t feeling in control. It’s a flailing emotion that looks for some way to achieve stability in those moments when you get socked in the gut, often¬†when you realize you have a need that you weren’t aware of before. It’s a particularly sharp way of being reminded that “HEY … THIS MATTERS!”

And that’s the key thing to understand about why some folks¬†want to inspire jealousy in others: if you are an object of somebody’s jealousy, that means you matter.

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A murderer is not just a murderer

A murderer is a person, too. Like you and me. A person who probably shares a lot in common with you and me, in fact.

Some folks were reading this will no doubt ask me why I think that this matters at all. To which I say: have you ever intimately known somebody who has intentionally killed another person before? If the answer is yes – whether or not you still keep in touch with such a person – you can’t tell me that this doesn’t matter.

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Feminism is NOT enough by itself to liberate men from the problems they confront; a treatise on male empowerment

One of the biggest sticking points between feminists and those who oppose them is this creeping thinking that “women are the oppressed gender, and¬†men are not.” That it is only women who need the safe spaces, the redress of injustice, the activism, the specialized attention to problems only they face, the throwing off of traditional restrictions, and so on. Men are sometimes thought to need none of that; as the gender that is not oppressed, men are just fine as they are. They deserve no special attention.

I couldn’t disagree more. While it’s true that there are a million things that women have to deal with that men don’t (and that feminism is still very necessary), men also have their own struggles peculiar to their manhood, and things they go through and are expected to do as men that women are free from. That should not be denied.

And whether or not you want to play Oppression Olympics and talk about which gender faces more barriers, one thing is for sure: in the area of gender justice, women have been making great strides forward, talking to each other about the obstacles they face, calling out and defining their issues as women, and pushing back against sexist norms¬†– while men’s issues are still most often shrouded in silence.

This silence around men’s issues is¬†not the fault of feminists or feminism. Sure, there are bad feminists. There are bad doctors too. Does that make the practice of being a doctor a bad one? Feminism is overall a very progressive phenomenon – one that takes women’s issues, yanks them out of the dark, and calls them out so that they can be known about and dealt with.

The constructive answer to this problem is to replicate for men what feminism has been doing for women, rather than pushing back against feminism.

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Posted in Achieving peace and understanding, Beliefs and worldview, Debate!, Healthy vulnerability and weakness, Long posts, Sex and sexuality, Staying strong | Tagged , , , , | 28 Comments

Who do you think you aren’t?

Before I was able to love myself, I use to think about all the people that I wasn’t like. I would think about heroes, the people that we hold in high esteem as models for the best that humanity can be – and about how I wasn’t meant to be like them. From historical figures like Harriet Tubman or Gandhi to everyday local heroes in our comminuties who are known for their acts of courage, overflowing generosity, and sense of commitment to bettering the world around them – I knew I wasn’t one of them. My destiny in life was just to be the best ordinary person I could be. I thought “some people are heroes … and some aren’t.”

Then, when I first found love for myself – which was quite an amazing period in my life – I noticed something: I was already my own hero. I no longer separated myself from these “heroes” in my head. Rather than seeing what separated me from them, I began to see just how much I had in common with them. I began to think of them not just as heroes, but as allies; people that I was spiritually side-by-side with, in a sense. People that I could learn from who could also learn from me – and I realized, in pretty much every case, these people would also welcome me seeing myself as equally valuable to the betterment of the world as they.

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Ask for help even when you don’t totally need it

We tend to ask for help when (a) what we need help with is not a big deal, and (b) when we desperately need help with something, often at times when we should have asked long ago. The fact that we often don’t ask for help when we find ourselves in the middle of these two extremes robs us of a lot of good opportunities to help and be helped. It creates unfortunate negative associations with help, including feelings of superiority versus inferiority, and also a thinking that a request for meaningful help is usually associated with neediness and desperation.

This shouldn’t be the case. When help is genuine – given from a place of wanting to see somebody free of troubles – it’s most often a rewarding experience for everyone involved, helper and helped. And I’d like to talk about that for a bit: the importance of helping and being helped, by itself, regardless of the nature of the help given or received.

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One atheist’s understanding of the message of Jesus Christ

I’m one of the most religion-friendly atheists you’ll ever know. Because I don’t believe in disparaging people’s beliefs for being different than my own. On the contrary, those around us who believe different things than we do, they hold these beliefs for some very good and interesting reasons, and this makes me curious.

This is why I am grateful, atheist that I am, to be able to relate to the message of Jesus Christ. ūüôā

I¬†probably should be clear: this does not make me a Christian in atheist clothing, or anything like that. I do not believe in “God,” and I do not believe in Jesus as God, anymore than I believe in Gandhi as God or Madonna as God. But the fact that I don’t worship¬†Jesus as “God” doesn’t mean that what Jesus spoke of isn’t a good, powerful message to relate to, among others. And given that the story of Jesus Christ is one of the most widely known stories throughout the world, a reference point from which so many people base their value system, it’s often quite valuable to be able to say to these Christians “yes. I understand.” From there, we can communicate on a deeper, more appreciative, less patronizing level to each other.

I also find this topic important specifically because it is important to those¬†people who do¬†have a religious faith. These folks are out there, and I am going to be interacting with them. And when interacting with religious folks,¬†ignoring their belief or worse, mocking and shaming it, is bigoted. When an atheist’s (or anybody else’s) beliefs are mocked and shamed, or made invisible through ignorance of them, this is bigoted too. Well, it works both ways.

Now, I’m not excusing those religious fanatic leaders who mobilize people and resources in order to deprive or cause harm to others. Those folks can go chew on some scrap-metal – they really do cause pain and distress, to many people that are supposed to share their beliefs as well as those that don’t. I often think that the biggest problems in many belief movements (non-religious as well as religious) are the leaders; the folks who are¬†“just believers”¬†are often quite different from these leaders, even when they may not “look like it” at first.¬†When you can communicate compassionately across these walls on a humanity-to-humanity level, you break down myths and learn about the real person, and the experience can often be rewarding on both sides.

So … about Jesus Christ. Let’s begin.

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The nitty-gritty of using condoms: a conversation we don’t have nearly often enough

“If you’re going to have sex, use a condom!” We hear it all the time: safer sex necessarily involves condom use, among other things. And it sounds simple and sensible enough, right? Just cover the penis when penetration occurs, and then take it off and throw it away afterwards. So simple – or at least it looks that way¬†in public service ads and¬†school sex-ed classes.

(PLEASE NOTE: there is some explicit discussion of the workings and mechanics of sex further on in this article. Just in case you aren’t up for reading that kind of thing right now. Otherwise, please proceed).

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The difference between envy and jealousy

Envy is a natural feeling of wanting what somebody else has. Jealousy, however, is qualitatively different.

Whereas envy simply says, “I want what you have,” jealousy says, “I can’t stand that you have something I don’t,” usually followed up with “thus you should not have it!”

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Getting the most out of the loves of our lives

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.‚ÄĚ –Rumi

There is something about the way much of modern society views love outside of family ties that I find deeply disturbing.

It is often thought that the only people that you should use the word love with are people in your family, or people that possibly will become your family through you being married / settled down with them. Even when you don’t settle down and get married to somebody, the concept of using the word love only for people that will most likely be in your life forever tends to predominate. Not everybody thinks this way, but it is the dominant hidden traditional social value, especially in more modernized, atomized societies.

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The primordial soup of new feelings

When a person’s life situation suddenly changes radically, things can often become unstable. Moving to a new town, breaking up with a long-term partner, forming a new deep romantic relationship, moving out of a family member’s house,¬†death of a loved one, loss of something important to you, or even¬†finally achieving something important to you that you’ve¬†sought for a long time¬†… all of these things bring with them the destruction of old routines, and new feelings come and take their place.

And much of the time, these new feelings are weird and scary. Or they can be, like, totally radically awesome, too! If that’s the case, well, enjoy it! My only word of caution is to remember that such feelings are indeed temporary. Transitory. They won’t be sticking around. They’ll quickly get replaced by other feelings, and often switch back and forth and jolt you around a good deal.

We’ll often get into situations that we look back on with amazement: How did I¬†get into¬†that?? Sometimes we regret it, but sometimes we don’t. But for many people, especially those in search of some kind of balance or purpose in life, it can still be unsettling, to say the least, to look back on actions taken in the past and wonder “so, that was really me doing that, eh?”

Hindsight is always 20/20, the saying goes. You can always see clearly looking backward. So the key question here is how to best navigate this “primordial soup” of new feelings that comes with a big change – when that big change is actually happening.

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